Anyone who has perused my many Instructables will have noticed that they have been created on two continents: North America and South America. The "Outdoor Workshop Contest" has inspired me to share some photos of one of my bases of operation; My outdoor workshop (or "oficina") in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
First a bit about the term "oficina." In Spanish, it means what you might think; "office." But in Portuguese it has a different meaning, closer to the English word for "workshop." If your car breaks down in Brazil, you bring it to the mechanic's "oficina." (I learned this distinction the hard way when I lost my luggage once, and kept asking airport employees where the "oficina" was. They must have been thinking: "This crazy gringo just lost his luggage... What does he want a mechanic for?";-)
Over the years I've learned a few important things about getting a job done right and in a timely fashion. One is always try to use the right tool for a job when possible, and the other is that it's a lot easier to get job done when you know where all your tools and hardware are. It was this later point that led me to create my "oficina" a few years back, as I would spend more time looking for tools and hardware in various places, than actually building or fixing something. It would drive me crazy spending a half-hour looking for the right screw, only to spend more time looking for the right screwdriver!
Hence my outdoor workshop was born out of the desire to be able to store all my tools, hardware and bits and pieces in one place. It's amazing how much faster you can get things done when you don't spend time searching for a screw...
Step 1: Choose the Right Spot
For my purposes there were a few important criterion for setting up an outdoor workshop: I needed a space that would provide some shade from the often brutal Brazilian sun, and privacy from prying eyes on the street. It was also important that I be able to easily breakdown the workshop to move everything inside for safe storage, as the house spends many months of the year vacant.
The perfect spot was the under-utilized "área de serviço" or service area. This is a space that many if not most Brazilian homes have, where you can wash and dry clothes, and tend to other outdoor chores. As our "área de serviço" is rarely used, covered by a roof, and out of view from the street, it was the perfect spot!
My father-in-law built this cement framed storage area and sink attached to the side of or house some years back. He also built that terra cotta roof that covers it. ("Obrigado Moacyr!") It's great when we have people renting out the house, but when my wife and I visit, my mother-in-law is kind enough to provide all our laundering services, ("Obrigado Dona Helena!";-), leaving me with an under-utilized slop sink, and a perfect space for an "oficina."
Step 2: Make a Workbench
What made the sinks unusable for most jobs (other than washing) was there was no place to put anything, except in the sink. I found a perfect piece of plywood leftover from some other job, and this became my workbench. I added a few of pieces of scrap wood around three sides as a frame, and I have a very easily removable table top that fits snuggly over the slop sink, creating a very serviceable workspace.
It's not tremendously durable, (i.e. it won't take multiple heavy blows from a sledgehammer), but for most light household jobs and small creations, it's perfect! And when it falls apart, very easy to replace...
Step 3: Add Power and Shelving
A key part of building this little workshop is that it be very easy to break down. Towards this end, there's really only one screw involved, and that's the one that holds the brace for the shelf. The other shelves are held in place by old electrical wire twisted around the security gate. (Some may recognize this window from a previous Instructable, "Duct tape tilting window screen.") I also added a custom shelf for screwdrivers, which balances on an old wine rack on one side and the security gate on the other.
All the wood for this project was either scrap from other projects or found on the street. The shelves are part of an old armoire that succumbed to termites, and the wine rack was found on the side of a rural road in a pile of garbage.
One downside to this location is that there is no power outlet nearby, which I guess makes sense as it is a slop sink. So I ran an extension cable from the other side of the walkway, temporarily attached it with some wire twists, and added a power strip. Depending on the country of origin of the tools, I may end up using my "Dual-nation power strip."
Step 4: Add Tools and Hardware and Start Making!
In the dozen years that my wife and I have had a vacation home in Brazil, I've been bringing tools and hardware and various strange odds-and-ends in my luggage to put to use in our beach house. (As a result, our Brazilian beach house is decorated with many things I found on the streets of NYC;-) I've learned that while some things can be very inexpensive in Brazil by North American standards, other things can be ridiculously expensive.
As a broad generalization, things in this later category include power tools and Chinese imports. The kind of thing that I'm used to picking up at a 99 cent store in New York for about a US dollar can run 10 X or more in a store in Brazil. Something like a pack of nails or paint brushes which I can buy in NYC for a dollar or two might cost $10 to US$20 in a hardware store in Rio. The main reason for this is extremely high imports taxes. So what we in North America view as practically disposable items could almost be viewed as luxury imports in Brazil.
So I've learned to try and bring with me as many tools and as much hardware as I can fit in my luggage. One result of this is that my luggage almost always seems to be "randomly selected" by the Transportation Security Authority for inspection. I actually have a collection of these notices. I guess there's something odd about the tourist to Brazil who packs Gorilla Glue and a soldering iron, but no sunscreen or bathing suit?;-)
So one vacation at a time, my collection of tools and materials has grown to the point where I have a pretty functional South American "oficina" for most of my home-fix-it and maker needs.
If you made it this far in this Instructable, you are now eligible to take part in my own little contest: I'll be sending a free 3 month Instructables Pro-Membership code to whoever can find and identify the most projects (or parts of projects) I've posted to Instructables in the two photos of my "oficina" above. PM me with a list of the projects you've spotted before July 31st, and I'll send the winner a code for a 3 month Pro-Membership, and post a congrats in the comments section on August 1st. Happy hunting and healthy making;-)